This year Grace and I both turned the ripe old age of 30, and we decided to take a belated trip out to none other than Nevada’s ‘Sin City’ before heading on a bit of a road trip to visit her home town.
We were staying in the Flamingo, which is slap bang in the middle of the Strip, and has some of the coolest neon signs of them all.
The weather was so hot that the letters on the road signs were peeling off, and the traffic cones melting.
There are many strange things about Vegas, but one of the most unusual is that the hotels end up as attractions in of themselves – self contained (and inter-connected) units with restaurants, bars, and of course… casinos. Many are themed, and go to outrageous lengths to ensure ‘authenticity’. Caesar’s Palace is decked out in marble imported from Italy. New York New York’s towers are styled like apartment blocks from the Big Apple – fronted with a Statue of Liberty, and topped with a rollercoaster. The Venetian has bridges, a canal, and a roof painted with clouds which actually produces a relatively realistic daytime sky all night long. The ‘Paris’ has a half sized replica of the ‘Eiffel Tower’ out front… which was originally meant to be to scale, but which had to be reined in due to the problems that would cause the airport. The list goes on.
It isn’t just the themed hotels that had over the top artwork or architecture either…
There are even escalators outside, leading to pedestrian walkways. I thought this was a bit excessive at first, but after a few days in the crippling heat I was glad they were there.
If you look about, you can find rooms that go for pretty cheap, but we decided to pay a bit extra to get one that faced out onto the Strip. This seemed like a pretty great location at first, but it turned out that the hotel had a huge advert pasted over all of the front-facing rooms – the kind that you see on trains or busses, where there is a mesh that lets you see out, but which makes up a picture when viewed from the outside, further away. This might be a nice idea in theory, but in practice ended up ruining any attempt at taking photos, no matter what I tried. It had the same effect on your eyes alone if you got too close, which meant that sitting gazing out wasn’t really much fun.
After letting the hotel know that this was ‘pish’, they switched us up to a room on the top floor, which faced onto a different part of the strip – with no stupid mesh obstructing things. Nice work, though the whole thing seemed like a bizarre choice given the prime location of the Flamingo. When I told a friend about this saga, he laughed and said that it summed up Vegas perfectly: monetising every situation to sell something. In lots of ways that really is true; this is a city designed to suck up as much money from people as possible. For me, this was highlighted even more so the following day, when I complimented a guy on his dog, an American Bully. His response? Without missing a beat, he replied: “Want him? He’s for sale. I have the papers right here.”
Vegas is overwhelming – an assault on the senses – but in a very different way from Tokyo. The first night we arrived, I was tired and felt like the city wasn’t going to be my bag at all, but once I got some sleep and fell into the swing of things, I came to really like it. Yeah, everything was overpriced and over-commercialised, but there was also just the right amount of genuine edginess (trashiness) that meant it felt more comfortable than it did hollow. Then again, any place that has things going on all around 24 hours (especially drinking) is going to suit me just fine.
Here is a fat Elvis riding a mobility scooter, drinking a beer. Unfortunately he spotted me and covered his face.
As if that wasn’t enough to get us into the Vegas spirit, we tried our hand at blackjack. As it turns out, gambling is addictive. Who knew?
Across Vegas, the disparity between the wealthy and the less so was pretty apparent, with folks sleeping rough in the baking summer sun. The gap was maybe not evident to the same extent as it is in somewhere like San Francisco, but somehow it seemed to be laid more bare.
We did manage to scout out a few cheaper places. A special mention goes to the Double Down Saloon – a scuzzy punk bar about a thirty minute walk from the Strip, where drinks cost $3 each during the weekdays instead of the $15-20 you will pay elsewhere. Their signature drink is some concoction named ‘Ass Juice’, which you can even have served in a mini toilet, if you are so inclined.
Another highlight was the ‘Neon Boneyard’, as museum which had a collection of historic signs, some of which had been restored at great cost. We were pretty hungover for the tour, but it was still awesome to see and hear the stories behind them – especially as I am something of a neon junkie.
We also had some pretty good food and drinks, from unlimited booze to tacos to ‘breakfast milk’ coffee and ice cream.
People had said that even 4 days was too much to stomach Vegas to handle, but I’m not sure about that. There’s tons of stuff to do, and I could spend weeks just drinking and people watching. That said, the amount of money you’d need to pull that off wouldn’t be inconsiderable.
I read somewhere ‘many visitors [to Vegas] leave feeling fooled’, and it’s easy to see why. Everything is designed to extract as much money as possible from you, and I frequently found myself caught in the odd realisation that the biggest attraction of the city was an activity where you were literally just pumping cash into machines. Even despite that, I’d like to go back.